For Microsoft, being underdog is the perfect antitrust defense

For Microsoft, being underdog is the perfect antitrust defense

Summary: Mozilla and Google have complained that Microsoft is competing unfairly with its decision to block their desktop browsers in Windows RT. But this isn't 1998, and Microsoft can make a strong case in its own defense based on its own weak market share.

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No, it’s not 1998 again, although if you just awoke from a 14-year nap you might think nothing has changed.

Last week, Mozilla Corporation accused Microsoft of giving Internet Explorer an unfair advantage over competing browsers like Firefox in its upcoming release of Windows RT. That’s an eerie echo of the mid-1990s, when Netscape and Internet Explorer battled for the dominant position on the Windows desktop.

Mozilla’s Firefox is, of course, a direct descendant of Netscape, which accused Microsoft of abusing its monopoly in personal computer operating systems by bundling Internet Explorer with Windows 95. The U.S. Department of Justice won the antitrust battle against Microsoft in a case that finally ended in 2001, but Netscape never recovered and was eventually absorbed into AOL.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee plans to look at the allegations that Microsoft has engaged in anti-competitive behavior.

But anyone expecting a sequel to United States v Microsoft is in for a big disappointment.

There are multiples hurdles confronting anyone who wants to make that complaint.

First, Microsoft no longer has a monopoly in desktop computing, as it did in 1998. Back then, the Windows/Intel combo was a juggernaut and Apple was practically on life support. Today Apple is enjoying unprecedented success with its MacBooks, especially in the developed world.

And desktop computing has begun a long, slow decline. We are hardly in a post-PC world yet, but the landscape of personal computing has changed dramatically since 2001, when Microsoft was judged to have abused its Windows monopoly. The new battleground is mobile computing, and Microsoft not only enjoys no monopoly there, it is far behind Apple and Android.

Most importantly, the notion of a browser as a monolithic application seems downright quaint.

Back in the 1990s, Microsoft argued unsuccessfully that the core components of a web browser should be integrated into the operating system, in order to “preserve the integrity of the platform.” Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson didn’t buy that argument in 2001, but it makes much more sense today, especially when you look at the actions of Microsoft’s rivals.

Google (which has joined Mozilla in complaining of Microsoft’s decision) has built its full suite of apps to run exclusively in a web browser, specifically its own Chrome browser, which is at the very core of its Chrome OS.

Apple has embedded the Webkit HTML rendering engine and JavaScript interpreter directly into its iOS operating system. If you want to build a third-party browser, you basically have to create a user interface that sits atop those components. That’s what Opera has done with its Opera Mini browser:

Opera Mini always uses Opera’s advanced server compression technology to compress web content before it gets to a device. The rendering engine is on Opera’s server.

So the two players that dominate mobile computing today have essentially adopted the model Microsoft proposed in the 1990s. Microsoft will have a much easier time arguing that its market share (very low single digits in mobile computing) justifies tighter integration between browser and OS.

In the x86/x64 version of Windows 8, Mozilla and Google both have the right to develop browsers that will be on an equal footing with Internet Explorer 10. But doing so requires that users install traditional Windows apps and DLLs that work under the hood to handle HTML rendering and JavaScript interpretation.

In Windows RT, the only avenue for users to install code is via the Windows Store or Windows Update. Those tight restrictions are there for a reason: to ensure the security, reliability, and performance of ARM-based devices. That level of control is essential to battery life and preventing users from being targeted by malware, as Apple has already proven.

Both Mozilla and Google require their own HTML and JavaScript components, and their products are based on frequent updates. Neither of those conditions is possible—or desirable—on the tightly controlled Windows RT platform.

Back in the 1990s, Microsoft made the case for the level of integration between browser and OS that we see today. Ironically, it has a compelling argument that it should be allowed to do exactly that today so it can compete with a larger, more successful company.

See also:

Topics: Security, Browser, Google, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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236 comments
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  • Mozilla is stuck in 1998

    I think they may be realizing that the post-PC era doesn't have a place for them, so they are 'acting out' with this attack on Microsoft. Attacking Apple would expose their position as silly, so they passive-aggressively complain about Microsoft when what they *really* means is "we're not wanted any more, boo hoo!"
    rbradbury@...
    • stuck in 1998?

      That's why companies keep bringing web browsers to the market? Because they're stuck in the past?
      For the first time in long time (ok - since 1998 if you like) - browser matters. And that's why MS trying to keep other browsers out of Win RT as much as they can - they can't do it with other Windows (everybody from EU to DoJ will be on their a** in a split second).
      Oh - and Mozilla (and Google i believe) did complain about iOS not allowing third party rendering engines.
      vgrig
    • Mozilla is stuck somewhere.

      Seriously, I'm not sure what's going through their heads, but I just uninstalled Firefox last week for the last time. The browser just isn't what it used to be, and has morphed into the gigantic creature that gobbles up RAM, and runs like a snail.

      I'm now running IE9/10, and Chromium as my main browsers.

      Mozilla really needs to look into switching off Gecko, and onto WebKit.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Having a webkit-based browser for PC-security...

        is like a coed going into a frat party clad in only lingerie and thinking she will leave with her virtue intact. Having Google Chromium as your main browser means you have surrendered your passwords, bank account information, and credit card information to Google. You are wearing a target that screams "steal my identity!"
        12stringer1975
      • A little paranoid?

        @12stringer1975

        I don't much care for Google (I use Bing as my default search engine on all my devices), but I continue to use their products, such as Google Reader and Google Chrome.

        Sure, your data is synced to Google's servers, but that's a choice. Also, you can have your data encrypted before it is even sent to Google's servers, so what's the big deal?

        I would use IE9 if it was a bit better, but there are few plugins that are actually any good -- or at least that don't slow the browser down. I have also experienced quite a few websites that IE9 just can't handle. These websites are pages that are extremely long, and oddly enough pages with fixed backgrounds (background images that don't move as you scroll up in down), IE9 freezes up and lags, but Google Chrome doesn't skip a beat. I am not the only one that experiences this, the rest of my family complain about these issues too.
        ian.aldrighetti
      • @12stringer

        I don't use Google Chrome for anything relating to online banking or shopping. Also, I block most of Google's services (googleapis) at the router. It kills many webpages doing that, but the less Google in my life, the better.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Cylon strikes again

        @ Cylon Centurion
        [i]Seriously, I'm not sure what's going through their heads, but I just uninstalled Firefox last week for the last time. [/i]

        I see you can do no better with Firefox than you did with XP. Did you ever think of taking up gardening instead?
        klumper
    • Then I am too stuck in the past

      As I like freedom of choice. I didn't touch Apple devices because of all restrictions and I'm about to do the same with Windows RT.

      If I want to crash my device and empty my battery in 1 hour, that's up to me, but let me choose how I'm going to cripple my device if I so choose to do...

      I'm hating so much where computing is headed...
      lepoete73
      • most aren't

        The reality is that most consumers just want the device to work. They don't care to try and figure out why it's always crashing or draining the battery. This, I believe, is one of the main reasons the iPad took off like it did is that it just worked and the average consumer didn't care that apple limited what could run on it. These ARM devices aren't meant to be devices we tinker with, they should just work and be reliable.
        dcutting
      • Then

        x86/x64 will still work for you.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • And here you are

        bringing a common sense theme... I like it!

        IMHO people need to vote with their wallet rather than sue over a product - especially one that is not even available to the general public. If people in the market for an ARM-based device want a walled experience then Win RT is for them, if they want open then go Android.
        NonFanboy
      • Huh?

        Apple is a choice...Google is a choice...WP7 is a choice...etc, etc.
        You have chosen to not use Apple and not use Windows RT and use something else. That's your choice.

        PS. You can Jailbreak you iOS device if you want MORE choice but lets not go down the road 30 years ago where there were many PC's and many OSes (BBC, Microbee, Commodore, Amstrad, etc, etc) and we ended up with just Windows and OSX (and linux/unix)).
        global.philosopher
      • Freedom of choice

        Fine, then you have the choice not to buy it. It's not like anyone is selling to you under false pretences. Don't forget that you represent the 1%, not the 99%, and if the 99% want a device that is secure and foolproof rather than infinitely customisable then I know what will go to market.
        You still have the choice to go Android if you want to play.
        joneda1
      • Heading?

        So is it heading this way:
        In future if we had to use an app which only works on IE, we have to use WinRT... and for another Anderoid... and for another legacy app, MacBook... So how many lap...desk...palm...etc tops must we purchase.
        sounak_s
  • Fighting the last war

    Google and Mozilla are fighting the "last war" rather than dealing with the realities of the current landscape.

    They shold be more concerned about the lack of Chrome and Firefox on iOS than they should be about it not turning up on Win RT.
    Blarkon
    • It shows that Windows RT is a threat

      Mozilla and Google wouldn't be starting this "war" if they didn't think Windows RT was an actual threat.

      Why would a company make such a big deal over something such as an unproven platform as Windows 8 if they thought it was going to fail? I guess Mozilla may be the exception, since they don't really have their own mobile operating system (except that Boot 2 Web thing), but Google has Android -- do they have that little faith in it on tablets?
      ian.aldrighetti
      • It's only a threat becasue they all know Microsoft will pressure vendors

        to put it on systems before they leave the factory. In theory you should be able to get a system from the vendors like HP with whatever OS you want or no OS at all in any of their configurations. Due to the pressure MS exert, that's just not possible. Check out what systems HP and Dell sell that have non Windows alternatives and you'll find that the majority of their systems are Windows only, while the few that they offer with Linux (where they do offer it) are NOT the top of the range hardware options. HP and Dell are a lot more open with regards the server systems because they know people buying servers are much more savvy about the software and know what they want.
        Deadly Ernest
      • Hate to tell you this, but ...

        ... The reason the PC's you can buy from Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer, Asus, Samsung, etc. Run Windows is because (statistically speaking) nobody wants PC's running Linux.

        Even WalMart gave up selling Linux PCs when they sat there on shop floors.

        This discussion, however, is about custom designed devices with customized OS'. as such, MS and its partners are free to put whatever they want on them because they are specifically NOT general-purpose computing devices.
        bitcrazed
      • No choice to the vendor

        Further, it is the vendor (the OEM) who builds and sell the personal computing device. In order to be competitive, they must have the freedom to use the Windows RT kit for building their device, but chose what browser to install on it. Which means there must be browser options and ways to have different default browser.

        The same applies of course to Apple: Apple however builds the personal computing device and putting Safari as the default browser is what they have decided as an vendor. You can of course (as an user) install whatever browser you wish. Most of them use the Apple provided WebKit library on iOS and this lets many more parties build a web browser, without having to resort to expensive and time consuming low-level programming.

        Microsoft got this one wrong...
        danbi
      • Customized OS

        @bitcrazed
        [i]This discussion, however, is about custom designed devices with customized OS'. as such, MS and its partners are free to put whatever they want on them because they are specifically NOT general-purpose computing devices.[/i]

        Fair enough, I suppose. But then tell me, why does MS insist on ramming a metrofied, twin version of this seemingly AIO striped OS down everyone's throat on those general-purpose computing devices we call PCs? Isn't Windows RT simply W8 Light [code name Little Junior]?

        Some might argue this is a case of wanting to have yer cake, and eat it too.
        klumper